Lucille’s, the Round Barn, Pops, and the Blue Whale are just a few of the Historic Route 66 icons attracting visitors from across the world to our state. America's Main Street stretches across eight states with the most miles passing through Oklahoma.
“The first idea was to go for adventure,” said Hafsi Youssef. “Since I was a little kid, I wanted to do the 66 road. So, we have the GPS, we have two maps, we have the internet to find our way.”
That adventure took a couple from Paris, France down the open road of Route 66. They're among a growing trend of foreign travelers driving the historic road.
In fact, 30 percent of the 45,000 visitors to Oklahoma are from other countries.
“This is real America to them, you know, this America before we became generic.” Says Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road. But the highway of leisure began as a highway of necessity.
Built in November 1926 Route 66 connected the east to the west. Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery called it the main street of America.
“He became, because of his work, the father of Route 66,” says Wallis.
Avery used the 11th street bridge in Tulsa to convince highway officials to bring the route through Oklahoma.
“He wanted it to go through this town where he had business interests and the state capital.”
Then in 1928, Oklahoman Andy Payne won an endurance race called the Bunion Derby - that helped put the highway on the map. The road was completely paved in 1937 as the trucking industry took off.
By the 1950's it became America's vacation road when diners, motels and more gas stations popped up along the way.
“It’s always been a commercial highway, this is about turning a buck, selling you a hand full of postcards, and enchilada platter, a room for the night,” says Wallis
Route 66 gave these small towns life until 1985 when the government decommissioned it and replaced it with 5 interstates. Now, the storied roadway is making a comeback. Historian Jim Ross says the road is still there for anyone who wants to take a ride.
“A lot of people think the route is mostly gone, which is not true, you can still drive 80 to 85 percent of the highway,” says Ross.
“That’s why these attractions whether they’re man-made or natural attractions along the road are so important. Because that’s what seduces people, lures them off the interstate back to the old road.” Says Wallis.
Enticing travelers worldwide to navigate the famous highway and see the many restored iconic stops in Oklahoma.